Danbury 'Food Farmacy' designed to fight food insecurity
Danbury will soon welcome a new “Food Farmacy” designed to fight food insecurity in the area.
U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy joined local leaders and health officials Friday to announce federal funding for the program.
Officials with the United Way of Western Connecticut say the “Food Farmacy” will offer fresh produce to qualifying residents twice a month.
“Once enrolled, patients will see a dietitian, they'll have the opportunity to shop in a grocery style food pantry for healthy foods,” said Isabel Almeida, president of the United Way of Western Connecticut.
The farmacy is set to open in the fall at the Danbury Community Center. United Way of Western Connecticut is set to receive more than $1 million in federal funding for the program after getting support from Blumenthal and Murphy.
Murphy said the rise in obesity-related illnesses has made an impact on health care costs.
“Chronic disease accounts for 80% of American healthcare spending, 20% of US GDP, one in $4 that we spend in the Medicare program is dedicated just to diabetes. And so clearly, we need new approaches,” Murphy said.
People who wish to participate in the program do not need to be a Danbury resident, but must be a patient at either Danbury Primary Care or the Connecticut Institute for Communities (CIFC). They also need to have high blood pressure and suffer from food insecurity.
The center will serve a large segment of Danbury’s population. According to Feeding America, more than 10 percent of the population in Congressional District 5, which includes Danbury, is food insecure.
United Way’s ALICE survey states almost half of Danbury’s population struggles to meet basic needs.
The numbers are even more stark when looking at the kinds of illnesses being treated at CIFC. Most patients suffer from health related illnesses due to the lack of food according to CIFC CEO Katie Curran.
“Of our nearly 15,000 patients at CIFC Health, 18% are hypertensive, and over 80% of our patients with known incomes are below 200% of the federal poverty level and face some level of food insecurity every day,” Curran said.
There is a proven link between a poor diet and poor health outcomes, said Brenda Ayers, the Nuvance Health medical director for health equity.
“We know that when there are cheaper, maybe easier to get options for food they may not be as nutritious,” Ayers said. “These quicker, less nutritious foods become a staple for many, leading to an epidemic of nutrition sensitive illnesses like obesity and diabetes and hypertension.”
Ayers noted that many people suffering from poor diets must make difficult decisions due to poverty. She said she can speak from experience.
“Watching my mom when I was a child having to make a decision about whether she was going to buy food for us, or pay the electric bill, that these are real choices people live with and have to make every single day and not because they're lazy or unmotivated,” Ayers said.
“Farmacy” participants can see a dietician, a doctor and even a social worker to help them maintain a nutritious diet.
The program will also offer cooking classes and augment the already existing healthy savings program where residents can get $100 in fresh produce a month.
According to Ayers, food insecurity is also rooted in racism; racial minorities are more likely to suffer from food insecurity and as a result, suffer from higher rates of illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension.
But if someone’s diet is the culprit, it can also be the solution, she said.
“Through research, we have strong evidence that has shown over and over again, that when people have access to affordable nutritious foods, guess what, they eat more of them,” Ayers said. “And when they eat more nutritious foods, their nutrition sensitive diseases are better controlled.”